“Here I am, at right, with Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron. I must be telling them, ‘Don’t worry, guys. I know what I’m doing,’ because they’re laughing out loud.” Photograph by Lorey Sebastian. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
“Here I am, at right, with Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron. I must be telling them, ‘Don’t worry, guys. I know what I’m doing,’ because they’re laughing out loud.” Photograph by Lorey Sebastian. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

There are, in fact, fewer than a million ways to die in Seth MacFarlane’s Wild West. By the unofficial count of the director-coproducer-cowriter-star of the slapstick comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West, the film offers nine different paths to mortality, including having a giant block of ice dropped on one’s cranium. “I love the romanticism of old Westerns,” says MacFarlane, who set this story in 1882 Arizona. “But if you’re not an alpha male—which I’m not—it also seems like the most dangerous, awful, bummer of a time and place to live in.” The creator of the animated TV series Family Guy has essentially made the Freaks and Geeks of Westerns. He plays Albert, a sheep farmer whose girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him after he backs down from a gunfight. “It struck me that sheep farmers would’ve been the nerds of the Old West,” MacFarlane says. A beautiful stranger (Charlize Theron) arrives and helps him rediscover his manhood; her husband (Liam Neeson), a spurs-wearing baddie, comes looking for her. It sounds formulaic, except that there are no Clint Eastwood–esque frontier drawls. The actors deliver quick-fire quips as if they’d just stepped off the set of Ted, MacFarlane’s first movie, which starred Mark Wahlberg and a profane plush toy. Says MacFarlane, “We think of it as a time-travel story that’s not actually a time-travel story.”